All posts by keiramunsmith

My Christmas Wish this year: David Villa stays at NYCFC

Keira Smith - NYCFC/mlsfemale
Official NYCFC Reporter

By Keira Smith // @keiramunsmith

We’ve all seen the click-bait headline posted on MLS.com which basically is paraphrasing quotes from Spanish publication Sport.

This “news” and another article posted by NBC.com, utilizing a different publication out of Spain, again with no source, came out this week as fans wait to hear if New York City FC will negotiate a new contract with striker David Villa.

Villa was brought in as the club’s first signing in 2014 and his contract was $5.6 million per year for 3 years.   It was then extended in 2017 by one year, taking him through the 2018 season. Fans seem to fall into two camps since he missed 11 games, about one-third of the season, due to a knee injury: bring him back as a Designated Player or pay for him with TAM dollars in order to free up that DP slot.

Age seemed to, unfortunately, become a factor even to the seemingly eternally young “El Guaje”, who will be 37 in December.  To those watching his play closely towards the end of the season, there were through balls that he just didn’t get to which he would have taken in stride in years past. With each unsuccessful one-on-one duel with defenders,  the question was, “Is it age or injury?” all the while knowing he should have won the battle.

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And then there were the end of season appearances with fans.  According to Tisha Gale, official photographer for MLSFemale and member of Third Rail supporter group, who attended and presented at the NYCFC awards on October 22nd, said unlike almost all previous public appearances, Villa was one of the last to leave the event.  “It was as if he was consciously trying to cherish every last moment with the fans.”

Likewise, many fans treated the last home game on November 4th as the last chance to see the captain play at home. The last two losses were particularly hard for the fans as they were aware that those games might have been Villa’s final outings for NYCFC.

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Tisha Gale and David Villa at awards

To be clear, New York City FC striker and captain David Villa has not made any public statements as to his future with the club.  Villa is the foundation of the club and is a major component of fandom.  Not only did he start with the club from the beginning but he also embraced the core of NYCFC identity from Day 1:  Being a New Yorker.

He embraced New York and all of its cultural gifts and the city embraced him back in the way that most of us do:  We leave you alone to live your personal life with as much privacy and normalcy as possible and celebrate or criticize you when you are on-the-clock.   Villa not only cherished the city culture but wholeheartedly gave his all to help the team win games – a true competitor who expects excellence.

These are all characteristics of someone who we would want staying within our club system in some capacity going forward.

I would expect that City Football Group would go to any lengths to explore all options with Villa to keep him playing with our club, perhaps outside of a DP capacity. The truth is we don’t yet know what David Villa will decide to do.  I do know that he is revered by fans all over the world as a hero, magician and veteran.  Why would NYCFC not try their hardest to hold onto Villa’s brilliant skills, experience, poise and high standards?

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Dear NYCFC Front Office,

This is my Christmas wish:  Find a way to hold onto Villa before he is gone from the field, and from a future developing and building the club further. His past and future influences are not to be diminished.

Love,

Keira

Images by Tisha Gale

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David Villa’s 400th Goal Celebration

Featured image: @TishaGale

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NYCFC looks ahead to face Atlanta United in MLS Eastern Conference Semifinals

Keira Smith - NYCFC/mlsfemale
Official NYCFC Reporter

By Keira Smith // @keiramunsmith

It’s deja-vu all over again as New York City Football Club tops Philadelphia Union 3-1 for the second time in a week, this time in the MLS Playoff Knockout Round.

From the beginning, NYCFC dominated the Union, sticking to their high possession strategy which was lighter and more precise with the return of midfielder Yangel Herrera. Herrera’s ability to anticipate opponents’ next moves and superb skills in transitioning between defense and offense allowed David Villa, Maxi Moralez and Ismael Tajouri-Shradi to work smoothly together.

All three goals were scored on attacks down the middle with three different types of finishing touches by Tajouri-Shradi, Villa and Moralez. Additionally, a late substitution of Valentin (Taty) Castellanos for Villa was strategically very important in maintaining the win as Castellanos drew two, sometimes three defenders which freed up Moralez to maneuver and keep NYC in possession of the ball.

This was a huge win and a morale lifter for NYCFC and its fans as we look ahead to face Atlanta United in the MLS Eastern Conference semi-finals.  New York City has been gaining momentum and confidence after a dismal two months and Atlanta is showing some cracks in its previously impenetrable foundation. Atlanta is now in a situation familiar to NYCFC with its coach Tata Martino rumored to be leaving the club for “greener” pastures, as well as, player personal conduct and team chemistry distractions.

In the past two years, the two teams have been evenly matched with each team credited one win, one loss and two draws. New York City is back to full strength with a clean bill of health and will face an Atlanta squad who will be close to full strength, especially if midfielder Miguel Almirón returns to match play.  (Almirón returned to training this week.)

I predict Atlanta will utilize a 4-4-2 formation with Brad Guzan, a returning from injury Greg Garza, Leandro González-Pirez, Michael Parkhurst and Franco Escobar as defenders, center defending midfielder Jeff Larentowicz, center attacking midfielder  Almirón, Ezequiel Barco and Darlington Nagbe on the wings and both Hector Villalba and Josef Martinez up top.

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Ismael Tajouri-Shradi celebrates his goal. Image: Tisha Gale

For New York City, I see coach Dome Torrent sticking with a similar lineup and formation as the last two matches with the exception of perhaps starting Jesús Medina at left midfield over Ronald Matarrita as Medina’s style of play may be a better matchup against Atlanta’s tactics.  The past two matchups utilized a 4-2-3-1 with Sean Johnson, Ben Sweat, Alexander Callens, Maxime Chanot, Anton Tinnerholm, Herrera, Alex Ring, Medina, Moralez, Tajouri-Shradi and Villa.

Make no mistake about it, this will be an extremely tough match for City, especially after Atlanta’s recent embarrassing loss to Toronto FC which cost them the Supporter’s Shield.  They will be out to prove to everyone that the recent loss was a fluke.  However, I have no doubt that our Boys in Blue are in fine form and are capable of taking a big decisive win and sowing more seeds of doubt for Atlanta.

Images by Tisha Gale

Featured image: @TishaGale

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With missing pieces in place, NYCFC defeats Philadelphia Union 3-1 on MLS Decision Day

Keira Smith - NYCFC/mlsfemale
Official NYCFC Reporter

By Keira Smith // @keiramunsmith

Sunday, October 28: 3-1 Win

New York City Football Club was finally back home on Sunday, playing with a full, healthy squad taking on Philadelphia Union. Not only was it Fan Appreciation Day but most importantly, MLS Decision Day, which determined the draw for the knockout round.  NYCFC needed a victory to secure a number 3 seed and a first-round home game.

Amid rumors of David Villa’s looming end-of-season retirement and with the possibility of an away first-round playoff game (depending on the result of this game), fans were aching to enjoy every moment of Villa on the home pitch. Our captain did not disappoint with his deep crossing runs, elegant ball movement and, of course, a goal.  Villa played the entire 90 minutes which resulted in a 3-1 NY City victory over the Union. Other goals were scored by Maxime Chanot (NYC), Auston Trusty (Philadelphia own goal) and Cory Burke (Philadelphia).

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David Villa maneuvers past a Union player in the 2nd half. Image: Tisha Gale

The game was not just a result of excellent tactics and effort by Villa but also by the triumphant return of Yangel Herrera in midfield.  Herrera missed most of the season due to an injury.  With Herrera’s calm yet aggressive presence on the field, the team looked tight and complete.  Herrera made the transition from defense to offense look smooth.  Is this what we have been lacking for these past few months?

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Post-match Yangel Herrera. Image: Tisha Gale

One of the most exciting moments of the match was executed by goalkeeper Sean Johnson when he made a flying save on a penalty kick awarded to Philadelphia for a foul called on Johnson himself. Johnson was pumped, the crowd was pumped and the save seemed to put the final nail in the Union’s coffin.

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Goalkeeper Sean Johnson celebrates the victory with fans. Image: Tisha Gale

With the win in hand, NYCFC will next face, yup, Philadelphia Union on Halloween.

With Halloween being a big holiday in the New York and Hudson Valley region, many fans discussed the disappointment in finding out that the playoff game was taking place that night rather than November 1st.  The date was determined by the television networks who do some version of drawing straws and taking picks for game coverage.  It seems that we got tricked while the #4 seeded DC United got all the treats.

Looking forward to the rematch with Philly on Wednesday.  I think Yankee Stadium will be a House of Horrors for the Union with NYCFC getting through to meet (a suddenly beatable?) Atlanta United in the Eastern Conference Series.

Featured image: @TishaGale

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And the youth will carry us. US Men’s National Team draws with Peru 1-1

Keira Smith - NYCFC/mlsfemale
Official NYCFC Reporter

By Keira Smith // @keiramunsmith

Tuesday, October 16: 1-1 Draw

I have to admit that many of my past experiences watching and cheering for the United States Men’s National Team have left me feeling unfulfilled.  Let down. Even sad. For me, the big draw to checking out this week’s friendly between the United States and Peru was the unique opportunity to see two New York City Football Club defenders face off.  It was Ben Sweat for the US and Alexander Callens representing Peru in similar roles for their respective teams.

After watching the match multiple times, my biggest takeaway is that I am actually optimistic about the future of our men’s team.  The game ended in a 1-1 draw and Peru had more possession, however, there were many moments of beautiful soccer involving some of our youngest players on the team.

The US did a great job of forcing turnovers in the middle third and immediately starting speedy counterattacks involving some combination of teenagers Timothy Weah, Josh Sargent, and Jonathan Amon working tightly with Kellyn Acosta. Weah, Sargent, and Amon all have day jobs with European clubs alongside injured US teammate Christian Pulisic.

I may be overenthusiastic about this, perhaps because my expectations were pretty low,  but there were true flashes of beauty from these players.  Obviously, the more experience they get playing as a unit, the better the national team will become.  Another player who stood out was Marky Delgado, who is still relatively young at 23.

Both Peru and the US seemed to do the majority of their attacking down the right flank, which meant that Ben Sweat and Alexander Callens were involved with most of the game.  Sweat did a fine a job in left back while most likely battling some nerves.  Notable to me was his speed in getting back to destroy plays but he seemed to choose the back pass a bit too often for my liking and made a few poor tackles which did little to decelerate some of Peru’s attacks.

Ben Sweat should get another look in that role to see if he can be more decisive in his tackles and capitalize more on his offensive capabilities as well.  He did have one respectable shot on goal in this match.   Callens played in a center-left back role and as expected, used his physical strength to outmuscle US attacks down the right side.  It’s interesting to watch his play “from the other side” as it looks a bit less smooth with his national team and he can be a bit late with his tackles which lead to at least one foul.

One other takeaway for me that I am proud of:  Peru was constantly playing to draw fouls, falling over with the slightest contact, banging the ground and writhing in pain.  For most of the game, the US team players would immediately jump up if they hit the ground to keep an attack going or would fight to stay vertical in a duel.  To me, it was a sharp contrast of styles and it’s the style that keeps the game moving and makes it more fun to watch.

I was not expecting to walk away from this game excited for the future of the US Men’s National Team and yet with all these talented young yet experienced players, I have hope.

Featured image: @ussoccer_mnt

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NYCFC clinches a playoff spot

Keira Smith - NYCFC/mlsfemale
Official NYCFC Reporter

By Keira Smith // @keiramunsmith

Wednesday, September 26: 2-0 Win

New York City Football Club clinched a spot in the MLS playoffs after a long-pined-for win against Chicago Fire on Wednesday night.  Fans of NYCFC were desperate for 3 points after our face-plant of an August and September.  For the record, I was cautiously optimistic before this game with the return of the majority of the squad, from various injuries and international call-ups.

There were a few changes to the lineup probably caused by the absence of Alexander Callens due to yellow card accumulation.  James Sands started in an attacking center midfield role alongside Alex Ring who played a more defensive role.  Despite both teams battle against the waterlogged field, causing more slipping and sliding than usual, Sands did a good job of looking to distribute long balls from the center of the field to the flanks.  Not all passes were perfect with gravity having its way at times with Sands but the long balls opened up the field and shook up Chicago’s defense.

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NYCFC’s James Sands fights for possession. Image: @TishaGale

New York City kept to their old reliable theme of quick pass possession with Ebenezer Ofori working well offensively and defensively for the majority of the game – except for the very end.  We had a number of missed and saved shots in the first half with four on target.  Chicago Fire goalkeeper Stefan Cleveland, not a regular starter for the team did a good job defending the net.

At the 47th minute, the stalemate was broken by Ring after a quick combination of one-touch passes which went from Maxi Moralez to David Villa and then to Ring.  In the 51st, David Villa put one in on a beautifully patient set up by Moralez.  Moralez had been trying to set up his teammates the whole night with mixed success.

NYC held Chicago to 2-0 due to a few fantastic saves by Sean Johnson and featuring an exceptional defensive performance by Maxime Chanot.

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David Villa & Sebastian Schweinsteiger. Image: @TishaGale
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NYCFC’s Alex Ring. Image: @TishaGale

A positive takeaway was the playing style of James Sands who was constantly pressuring the Fire’s developing offense and working to distribute the ball long and wide to the wings from the center. Were the distributions perfect? No, but multiple times it worked to propel the NYC attack forward from the congested middle of the field.  Sands seems to have learned a lot from Alex Ring’s style of play.

In the first half, a lot of the initial New York City attack was generated down the left wing by long balls from the center midfield to Ronald Matarrita who worked tightly with Villa and Moralez. In the first 45 minutes, both Villa and Moralez seemed to be working to craft the “right” pass to dish to a teammate for a strong shot, rather than just taking the shot themselves. For many of our chances on goal, it seemed like that last pass or the actual shot was off a bit in its timing or pace.

The second half seemed to have more quick one-touches in Chicago’s box and it resulted in two goals.  Was this a purposeful change in attacking strategy or just a coincidence? Either way, the win cemented NYCFC’s place in the MLS Cup Playoffs.

Next up City faces Minnesota United at the notoriously poorly turfed TCF Bank Stadium on Saturday, September 29th. The combination of questionable turf and a possible tweak to his previously injured abductor on Wednesday, likely means captain David Villa will be missing the match.  Maxime Chanot may also be rested to prevent a re-injury of his abductor, according to coach Domènec Torrent.

Featured image of NYCFC supporter, Laud Amabley: @TishaGale

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Enough with the international call-ups for NYCFC

Keira Smith - NYCFC/mlsfemale
Official NYCFC Reporter

By Keira Smith // @keiramunsmith

With all the talk about who or what is to blame for the downward spiral of New York City Football Club, one thing is clear:  there is a downside to a heavily international roster.  In all honesty, it seems like ex-coach Patrick Vieira’s final revenge, as he brought in most of the current roster and these players seem to get called up to various international games on a constant basis.

In addition to absences due to the World Cup, NYCFC has dealt with an almost unending flow of player call-ups for international friendlies.  Add a one-two punch of players being injured and then just as they are healthy to play for NYCFC, they get called up to their “home” country team.

Since March, we have honored the call-ups of Maxime Chanot, Ebenezer Ofori, Ronald Matarrita, Alexander Ring, Ismael Tajouri-Shradi, Rodney Wallace and Jo Inge Berget.  And now to put a cherry on top of our halfway melted sundae of an MLS season, Paraguay has called up Jesús Medina. To refresh your memory, Medina has been out for the past five-plus weeks due to a hamstring injury.  He may soon be back on the pitch but it’s incomprehensible that he may head straight to play for Paraguay potentially before he even returns to NYCFC.

This is almost the exact same scenario we dealt with when Tajouri-Shradi who came back from injury and then quickly left to represent the Libyan national team.  You can’t make this stuff up.

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Image: @TishaGale

The only positive takeaway from this is that various international teams see players’ experience and growth in MLS as worthy, validating MLS as a league. MLS teams should be building their teams with the best players possible whether they are “American” or from other countries if we want a high level of play.  Yes, it’s great to have a league where domestic players have opportunities to play but there shouldn’t be charity slots on teams or it clearly dumbs down the league.

I assume that MLS wants to continue to be attractive to international coaches and teams and what they can do to make better synergy with these leagues would be to get on the same calendar as the rest of the world leagues.  Knowing that this will never happen, they could extend the season by a few weeks, and then take the international break with the rest of the world.

For now, to New York City fans it feels like we are finally almost back to full strength with our lineup but after our poor performances in August, it may be too late to salvage this season.  However, the dreamer in me asks the question: With this roster returning to as close to full strength as it has been in months, why can’t we get back to that early season form that so delighted fans and terrorized opponents?

The playoffs are a great “do over”.  Hopefully, we can regain our form right now.

Featured image: @TishaGale

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Joy and Pain. In cold NYC rain.

Keira Smith - NYCFC/mlsfemale
Official NYCFC Reporter

By Keira Smith // @keiramunsmith

Saturday, Sept 8: 1-1 Draw

Sometimes you need fresh eyes to appreciate what you have.  Jess Houwen the MLSFemale reporter for Colorado Rapids arrived in New York City on Saturday and breathed some much needed fresh air into my outlook regarding the New York City Football Club experience. My big takeaway is that sometimes you don’t need to veer too far off your regular path to see things a different way.

After meeting up with Jess and my NYCFC sister Tisha Gale outside Penn Station, we hoofed it to Times Square. Yes, the place that most New Yorkers avoid at all costs mostly due to the slow-moving tourists and scary faux Hello Kitties accosting you for a photo. We had a few hours to spare before the NYCFC game against DC United up in the Bronx.

We popped into the M & M store on Jess’s promise of to-die-for coffee flavored candies. Sadly, they ran out of the coffee M&Ms but the caramel and the mint crunch ones are pretty damn good.  If I’m being honest, the walls covered in giant tubes of brightly colored candies were a sight to behold.  A place I normally zoom past without thought, I can now appreciate.

Another highlight of our pre-gaming tour was Tisha spontaneously juggling a soccer ball in the Adidas store to the amusement of fellow shoppers.

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Onward and upward we headed to the stadium on the 4 train.  Jess, embracing her inner New Yorker, purchased her first NYCFC scarf and became an NYCFC fan for the day (or maybe longer?).  I was excited to catch my first glimpse of Wayne Rooney and see how he and David Villa would match up this time. Of course, I went in low-key nervous as NYC was missing more than a handful of players due to injuries and international call ups and DC has been recently invigorated by the arrival of Rooney.

In the first half, we sat in my seats which are behind the goal, opposite the supporters’ section and we saw strong indications of deep respect and friendliness between Villa and Rooney.  On one occasion where the referee Kevin Stott was considering calling an offensive foul on Villa who was actually taken down by a DC player, it appeared that Rooney was intervening on Villa’s behalf.

Still scoreless going into the second half, we switched it up and watched from the supporters’ section, which is Tisha’s view of the game.  180 degrees from where I normally spectate and a world away, I got completely sucked up in the drums, the chants, the excitement and the frustration.

While we were in the bleachers, City was scored on by DC’s Steve Birnbaum in the 58th minute via a gorgeous free kick service by Rooney.   Then at the 86th minute, Villa leveled the score on his world-class shot, also from a free kick.  Pain and then joy experienced from another angle and with a different crowd.

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The match ended in a 1-1 draw and while fans in the supporters’ section more openly and creatively expressed both frustration with the poor shot accuracy and simultaneous relief at grabbing a point, those same emotions were felt by most NYCFC fans regardless of the seating area. From both of my vantage points, it genuinely looked like both Rooney and Villa enjoyed themselves.  Also from all angles, it was evident how solidly and intelligently James Sands plays in midfield, which is a big deal for the growth and development of the team and club.

It’s worth mentioning that DC United scored on one of two total shots while NYCFC’s finishing continued to seem cursed with only one goal out of  31 total shots.  This is on the heels of NYC’s loss to New England Revolution this week despite outshooting them 27 to 11.

City’s next match is away at Montréal, which I will be attending, on Saturday 9/22.  What we are clearly lacking right now is finishing ability.  We aren’t that far from our early-season dangerous attacking form.  Let’s hope that those players returning will bring a fresh perspective to get the team completely back to fighting form.

Featured image of Jess: Keira Smith

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @keiramunsmith

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NYCFC’s season resembling a slowly deflating balloon

Keira Smith - NYCFC/mlsfemale
Official NYCFC Reporter

By Keira Smith // @keiramunsmith

Wednesday, Sept 5: 0-1 Loss

The bright shiny balloon that was the New York City Football Club‘s season is slowly deflating and losing its luster. After this recent loss to the New England Revolution 1-0, it’s hard now to consider early season fan-think that our team is the best in the league and deserves to win “silverware”.

In this match NYCFC took 27 shots, of which 6 were on target, 12 were off target and 9 were blocked.  All of this shooting resulted in zero goals.  New England were able to score one goal off 11 total shots.  Unbeaten at home until tonight, fans are left scratching their heads as to what the core problems are and how they can be addressed to possibly salvage this season.

Yes, more shots were taken in this game than last but they either went wide or directly at goalkeeper Brad Knighton. David Villa seemed to constantly be taking extraneous touches which lead to him being shut down when a one-touch shot would have sufficed.

It’s clear we worked the left wing pretty well to get the ball down to New England’s third but the repeated high crosses from that side were quickly destroyed by the high number of Revolution defenders concentrated in the middle.  It looked like a similar tactic to the one DC United successfully executed in shutting down Josef Martinez in their victory last week over Atlanta FC.

Thus, I am very nervous about our prognosis for this Saturday’s game against the newly invigorated DC. The only silver lining is that our homegrown teen James Sands made his starting debut in midfield and played very well for 75 minutes. Coach Dome Torrent was pleased with his performance and now that he’s back from his short loan to Louisville perhaps we will see more of him on a more regular basis.

Until Saturday. Let’s hope the balloon still has some air left in it.

*Final thought– A noticeable factor for both teams was the embarrassing status of the baseball infield layover of grass. It became an area that both teams had to actively avoid as players appeared to be walking on ice. It seemed impossible to pivot on without one or two players falling in the process.

Featured image: @NYCFC

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Mixed emotions as NYCFC fall to Columbus Crew 2-1

Keira Smith - NYCFC/mlsfemale
Official NYCFC Reporter

By Keira Smith // @keiramunsmith

Saturday, Sept 1: 2-1 Loss

On Saturday, I bore witness to two poorly played soccer matches. The first was the local high school’s varsity team’s first game of the season, played by a team where most teenagers only touch a soccer ball during the 8 week season and the other was New York City Football Club versus Columbus Crew.  In case you were living in a hole, the final score for the latter was 2-1 Columbus Crew.  (And if you’re really curious, the high school team lost 5-1.)  I can’t say that these matches were that dissimilar from each other. The high school team faced one of the best in the league and will get better as the season goes on, but can we say this about NYCFC?

Consistent manpower continues to be an issue for New York City with players injured, out for international call-ups, red cards and yellow card accumulations. I have no doubt that rotating players and lineups messes with chemistry but we played last week with 9 players and moved quicker and faster with more desire than we did with 11 in this one.

Looking at some statistics about the number of lineup changes and its effects on game outcome over the past three seasons in MLS, Dustin Nation (@D_Naish) of American Soccer Analysis (@AnalysisEvolved) correlated the number of lineup changes with the three outcomes: win, loss or draw.  He found that more than 2 roster changes per game generally lead a team to be less likely to win.

I would be very interested in a further study of this data going back 10 years to include a few World Cup years to see if these events are independent variables. My gut says that there is definitely a connection between a “forced hand” (injuries/red cards/international call-ups) reason for changing lineups and strategically changing lineups to improve performance.  Hopefully, this is something that I can research further.

I started writing this match reflection with one part frustration, a half part exasperation and a pinch of collective woe-is-me self-pity.  I mean we wasted a huge rare opportunity to gain points in a week where both the NY Red Bulls and Atlanta FC also lost.  I was thinking about the supporters who take days off work, pack into small cars and travel many hours to give our team a rousing base of support.  I feel for them and the optimistic energy they bring every single game and why does this not translate into wins or at least into performances that we can be proud of?

And then I learned of the passing of a passionate NYCFC founding supporter and saw the immediate response across all parts of the club’s universe to help her family during an extremely difficult time. From the initial communication from New York City Supporters’ Club and setting up of a GoFundMe to which our club president was one of the first contributors, to Blue City Radio donating and raffling off match tickets, the response was swift and full of fierce loyalty to her. As reporter and podcaster Nick Chavez stated in a tweet, “Let us, as the family we are, help look after the needs of the family our beloved Tirzah left behind.” My deepest condolences go out to the family and friends of Tirza Gonzalez.

As a female soccer fan, it can sometimes be a lonely place in the US. I have very few local friends who follow the sport at all, let alone MLS.  I used to think of fans of the sport as members of my species and then those who support NYCFC as my tribe. I’m seeing more clearly that this connection we have to our team and each other is family.

#SaveTheCrew

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All images: @TishaGale

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The one where we refuse to cry “Unkel!”(NYCFC tie RBNY 1-1)

Keira Smith - NYCFC/mlsfemale
Official NYCFC Reporter

By Keira Smith // @keiramunsmith

Going into Wednesday’s game against regional rival New York Red Bulls, New York City Football Club had a few challenges: Namely 5 injured players and one red card suspension. NYCFC coach Domènec Torrent chose to utilize a 3-4-3 starting formation clearly to work around the absence of injured defender Alex Callens.

The real highlights of this drag down, dirty, chippy fight, also known as the Hudson River Derby, happen to be the reactions by NYC to the obstacles thrown at them in facing the Red Bulls this go-round. In many ways this felt like we were spectating a live action video game, one where the difficulty level for NYCFC was slowly cranked up to the “un-winnable” level:

  • Level 1- RBNY forward Bradley Wright-Phillips scores a goal in the 36th minute putting NYC down a goal.
  • Level 2- In the 39th minute midfielder Eloi Amagat, in his debut game for NYCFC, gets ejected on a straight red card for a “serious foul”. No cards had been shown to anyone prior to this.  City was now playing down a player.
  • Level 3- Goal scoring machine Ismael Tajouri-Shradi is subbed out in the second half bringing in Jo Inge Berget to replace him.  Was this tactical or is Isi hurt again?
  • Level 4- In the 51st minute, David Villa gave the fans another taste of his brilliance with a volley shot on a header pass by Berget which flew under the grasp of Red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles.  Level cleared! Game tied 1-1 but Berget is subbed off 10 minutes later presumably due to an injury.
  • Level 5a- Warning: Nobody has ever gotten past this level Around the 70th minute on a breakaway foot race between Wright-Phillips and Ebenezer Ofori, the Red Bull went down on contact and refused to get up, despite lack of a call and the continued play.  When medics came on to the field to tend to him (and seemed to stay on the field, despite the teams setting up for the re-start), it was clear that Wright-Phillips was not going off the field despite no card being shown.  Fans and players were yelling for him and his medic to leave the field.  It appeared that this angered referee Ted Unkel, who then had a sudden change of heart and sent the play to VAR to be analyzed (by the universally scorned Mark Geiger).  This resulted in Ofori being issued a red card for “stomping” on Wright-Phillips’ leg.  I challenge anyone watching the replay to come to this conclusion.  It’s very hard to stomp a moving object when your eyes are focused elsewhere and you are also losing your footing.  NYCFC was now down 2 players with at least 20 minutes to go, including injury time.
  •  Level 5b- aka Adding Insult to Injury – As Ofori leaves the field, Villa expresses his displeasure with the call and is issued a yellow card.  Somehow Kemar Lawrence goes toward Villa, which Anton Tinnerholm intercepts and gets struck in the neck by Lawrence, who stunningly only receives a yellow card.
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First-row action. Image: Keira Smith

With the game seemingly out of control and all sense of right, wrong, justice and fairness eliminated,  all fans could do was stand, scream and cheer our hearts out in support of our team.  They had to know that we were with them while they played the terrible hand they were dealt.  Every play destroyed by a City defender and every attacking sequence was met by deafening roars from the crowd.  We were going to will the players to survive this battle.

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New York is Blue. Image: Keira Smith

They say a lot of things about what you learn about yourself and your supporters when you’re up against the ropes, facing your greatest challenges.  NYCFC dug deep and boy, did that tie feel like a win.

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Felt like a win. Image: Keira Smith

Images by Keira Smith

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @keiramunsmith

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